Fiona Pardington


c. 1992
gold toned gelatin silver print
375mm x 485mm


Private Collection, Auckland.


Fifi was destined for the pages of a soft-core pornographic magazine, as was Norma. Instead, their nearly-naked bodies have graced the walls and collections of a number of New Z...

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Estimate $1,500 - $2,500

Fiona Pardington

Fifi (or Fake Grass)

1996 - 2001

C-type print, edition of 3

320mm x 490mm

Auction N˚2

Estimate $4,000 - $5,000

Achieved $4,690

Fiona Pardington: Flesh and Fabric

by Florence Rohan

Fifi was destined for the pages of a soft-core pornographic magazine, as was Norma. Instead, their nearly-naked bodies have graced the walls and collections of a number of New Zealand’s most well-known art galleries—and they’re only getting more famous. Fifi particularly has gained attention as the subject of animated debates following Fiona Pardington’s (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) recent survey exhibition at City Gallery Wellington (soon to tour to Auckland Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery). There, Fifi didn’t grace the walls but the floor, reproduced as a vinyl transfer that visitors were forced to walk over. She also made it to a billboard: high above Wellington’s Cuba Street, Fifi’s sheer underwear could have been for sale as part of an advertising campaign.

It wasn’t, though—Fifi was. Not as a sexualised object for the male gaze, as was intended, but as the subject of a photograph by one of New Zealand’s most famous photographers. Pardington was given a collection of 1950s pornographic proof sheets by a friend who found them in an abandoned building in London, which the artist subsequently re-photographed and printed to a high standard of quality, as is typical of her work. After this point, Fifi, Norma and their companions were treated with a great deal of respect. These works, taken from the One Night of Love series (1996-2001), are tame in comparison to the sexualised images of women seen in contemporary media. However, the unsettling nature of the photographs’ conception remains present within the images.

The work shown which depicts a prostrate male nude, most likely from the 1997 series Proud Flesh, is about texture. The nature of photographs of the male body, rather than the female body, is that gaze and intention are less of an immediate concern. Unlike the images of Fifi and Norma, the agency of the subject in this work is not questioned. Rather, the photograph is to be considered in relation to what is captured visually: the contrasting textures of flesh and fabric. The creases and folds in the silk cast shadows, as do creases in the skin. A tan line sections off the subject’s buttocks and draws our gaze to the softness of his flesh. At first glance this appears to be a sensual snap of a lover’s naked body, a deeply personal yet inconsequential image. A closer look, however, exposes this reading as simplistic. Three dark scars mark the buttocks of the subject. Agency and vulnerability are again examined as the source of these scars is questioned. Whether sinister or consensual, the viewer is moved to consider more than the beauty of the image.

Such is the nature of Pardington’s early photographs. Even as we see the beginnings of her interest in still life and vanitas through the introduction of coral, pearls and drapery to these works, the sensual and sinister nature of the images remains. The textures of flesh and fabric are palpable, and in each work sex seems imminent. In another of the works pictured, the loving gift of flowers and chocolates is marred by the presence of a crass hand scrawled note, which reads “You must fuck me now.” Here, the viewer is once again moved, not by the beauty of the image, but by the questions the image provokes that are left unanswered.